That’s not all that unusual or extraordinary, with one difference: he grew up in this church, drifted away when he graduated college, and so is returning to worship after an absence of about ten years.
And so what I so want to ask him is this: am I any better at this than I was ten years ago when you last saw me up there yammering away?
Now that question supposes that as a teenager he was a) listening consistently and b) listening closely enough to evaluate quality. Both suppositions are possible; neither are probable.
Nevertheless, the question remains: am I better the preaching task than I was ten years ago? Five years ago? Last year? Is any preacher better?
And, if improvement is possible, how does it happen?
Well, since I’m asking the question (silently) and writing this post, I believe preaching improvement is not only possible but pivotal. And here are five ways I attempt to go about it:
1. Read Novels. Over the last ten years, I’m sure I’ve read 100 novels but only one book on preaching (of course, that was Andy Stanley’s extraordinary Communicating For A Change, so that counts for way more than one). I have found that in reading fiction I can gain insights into truths about human behaviors and motivations that I never could if I stuck to more general preacher fare. Plus, good novelists write with the kind of effortless grace that you know takes a lot of effort — much like a strong sermon. Just yesterday, while reading Stephen King’s Revival, I came across this gem: Christ drove the money-changers from the temple, but we all know those quick-buck artists never stay away for long.” Indeed.
2. Tweet. Yep, Twitter helps preaching. It sounds sacrilegious — or at least my attempt to justify something I’m already doing — but the ability to craft meaningful statements in compelling ways is at the heart of a sermon that sticks. And a twit that tweets.
3. Read Sermons. MethoHeresy Confession: I read John Piper’s stuff. Often. Sometimes it makes me mad; more often it makes me think; occasionally it makes me weep. Learning from his sermon design helps my own.
4. Exercise. I’m so glad my YMCA keeps pens and pieces of paper handy, because that’s where my best inspiration occurs. So I’ll run over, write it down, put it in my locker, and the rest of the workout goes that much better.
5. Find A Wordsmithing Friend. One of my colleagues at Good Shepherd knows that he’ll be asked each week to weigh in on which version of a sermon’s bottom line “pops” with more emotional punch and theological accuracy. When possible, I return the favor with him. I believe we are making each other better. I just hope the recently-returned Good Shepherder notices.